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Scam leaves Charlottesville Lyft driver in the lurch

Bobby Sandell used to do million-dollar real estate deals near the beaches of Hilton Head, South Carolina. Today, the 70-year-old Charlottesville-area resident is a Lyft driver who smiles on $25 deals.

But even this work has recently hit a pothole. He says he fell for a scam that took his earnings and locked him out of his ride-hailing app.

"I’ve been offline for a week," Sandell recently told The Daily Progress. "People can report you, and you’re pretty vulnerable."

The trouble began on a recent Friday morning when Sandell, a veteran of 60,000 ride-hailing trips, got pinged for his day’s third pick-up. On his way to his passenger, he got a message telling him to call a phone number.

"There’s been a report that you’ve been driving while drinking," he said he was told. "So do not pick up this rider. Just hold on for 30 minutes."

Sandell said he now realizes that he let his panic over a false accusation and the messenger’s knowledge of his prospective passenger’s name override his normal caution.

"So," he said, "I waited."

Forty minutes later, he said, he was instructed to call the number of someone described as a Lyft supervisor. That person allegedly advised him that the alcohol accusation couldn’t be verified and that, to compensate his time and stress, he would soon receive a $60 gift card and, if he made a dozen trips by the end of the day, another $60 gift card.

"That’s when I gave the info," said Sandell, who says he unwisely provided personal financial information and details from his Lyft account.

"Their whole strategy is to scare you," said Sandell. "I wish I’d been smarter."

The scam’s first consequence, Sandell said, was that his recent ride-hailing revenue, around $800, was drained from his Lyft account. Next, he learned he was deactivated from further driving because he’d been reported for "discriminatory" behavior.

"I think they thought if they could get a driver deactivated, then they’d stand a better chance of keeping the money," he said.

Sandell said the discrimination accusation might have stung more if it had a ring of truth. He said being kind to everyone — from beverage-laden sorority women to his old Albemarle High School football teammates — is what earned him his perfect 5.0 driver rating.

"I get good tips and ratings," said Sandell, "because I’m compassionate."

By contrast, he said, Lyft hasn’t shown him sufficient compassion. While the company did quickly credit the missing $800 back to his account, he remained sidelined.

"I’ve got bills to pay," Sandell said a week after the incident. "I’ve yet to get a response."

In early February, Lyft announced an update to its drivers’ apps with a promise of a new button to appeal deactivations.

"When deactivations happen," Lyft wrote in a Feb. 6 statement, "our goal is for drivers to feel supported and respected throughout a process that is timely, transparent, and fair."

"Lyft got my money back, but the bad news is I’ve been out of work for a week," Sandell said.

Gig workers now earn $1.35 trillion annually in the U.S. economy, up $50 billion from 2021, according to the Upwork freelancing platform. That growth, however, offers little in the way of worker protection, as Sandell found out the hard way.

On a recent afternoon, he shared his story while standing beside the vehicle that had enabled his income, a 2017 Nissan Altima with more than 433,000 miles on the odometer. He said he recently got a new engine, new transmission, new brakes, new catalytic converter, along with some bodywork to repair damage from hitting a deer.

After all those repairs, his net income comes in way below what he grosses. But he said that it’s honest and enjoyable work.

"I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to somebody else," said Sandell. "I want to alert all drivers of Lyft and Uber to be careful if they get suspicious calls."

The Daily Progress contacted Lyft after speaking with Sandell. Lyft noted that its investigation quickly reunited Sandell with his money.

"We also permanently removed the rider’s account from the Lyft platform," a Lyft representative said in an email.

Even better, Sandell said, is that he has now been reactivated as a Lyft driver.


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